When i was in graduate school I took a class on “Metaphysics” and one of the problems we considered was identity of an object over time. If you have a deck of cards and swap one out every century, at what point does it become a different deck of cards? After 1? After 26? After 52? If you answer for example — “after 26” — you are faced with the puzzle that you could re-collect the 26 cards from the original deck that you swapped out and make a new deck which has every bit as much of a claim to being your first deck as the one in your hand from which you have been swapping cards. And what about other things that upon reflection are collections of smaller parts? What about a ship in which you swap out boards? What about a house in which you swap out bricks? What about a diamond from which you swap out atoms?
When I took my class I decided the question of identity at a time was too hard, because it relied on a harder, antecedent question: what is the identity of an object at a time? What makes a deck of cards a single deck of cards rather than 52 cards? If we don’t know the identity of an object at a time we surely don’t know the identity of an object as time passes.
Some of the authors I studied suggested that the important thing about being an object is physical continuity. If there is a bunch of stuff that is all touching and is surrounded by a bunch of nothingness or of different stuff it’s an object and if not, not. And some of these authors looked at brains and visual cortices and stuff to understand the underlying psychological architecture which conspired with a mute, undifferentiated universe to produce our perception of objects.
The problem with this example is a lion’s mouth. The gaping mouth of a lion is not a bunch of stuff that is touching but you had best regard it as an object! Or the lion will eat you.
This leads me to propose an alternative definition of an object which is, something is an object if and only if we ignore it at our peril. If it promises the risk of weal or of woe it is an object, if not not. So “communism” might be an object and a cloud, not, although a high pressure system might be an object. An object is that which poses a risk, or a reward.
It’s a better definition I aver than the “continuous stuff” definition but it won’t wash.. Supposing that whenever a lion eats a human being it defecates out another being with golden skin and a melodious voice who is interested in constructing a just city state in Antarctica.
Is being eaten by a lion a risk or a reward? To whom?
To answer that question requires answering the question: is the golden-skinned Antarctica utopian the same as the person who took his journey into the lion’s mouth or is he different. If he is different then the lion’s mouth is a source of risk and thus an object. If he is the same then he is a source of benefit and thus an object. But as we vary the example of what comes out of the lion’s rectum we can come up with things that make us wonder whether that is the same person or a different person. So the criterion of risk won’t work because it depends upon a criterion of personal identity.
Because a risk must be a risk to something or to somebody. If there were no objects at all there would be no risk.